Forest pathogens and insects can accelerate tree mortality, increase stand structural heterogeneity, and alter tree community composition. In northern California, the canopy trees Abies concolor var. lowiana (Gord. & Glend.) Lemmon (white fir) and Pseudotsuga menziesii
var. menziesii (Mirbel) Franco (Douglas-fir) co-occur but vary in shade tolerance and regenerative abilities following disturbance. Field observations suggested that mortality and turnover of white fir exceeded that of Douglas-fir and that native pathogens may be important drivers in
the absence of fire. Pathogens and bark beetles were sampled in old-growth white fir – Douglas-fir stands in northwestern California to assess their contribution to tree mortality, gap formation, and regeneration. We determined abundances and size class distributions of
canopy trees, presence of pathogens and bark beetles, and causes of tree mortality. We sampled canopy gaps and closed-canopy forests for overstory species composition, cause of mortality of gap-maker trees, and regeneration of white fir and Douglas-fir. Root-rot fungi accounted for significantly
higher mortality and gap formation in white fir than in Douglas-fir. Relative seedling–sapling density of Douglas-fir was higher in pathogen-induced canopy gaps than in closed-canopy forest. In the absence of fire, native forest pathogens enable regeneration and persistence of Douglas-fir
by enhancing mortality of white fir, resulting in canopy gap formation.
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